The death toll in Yemen continues to rise amid a Saudi-led military campaign and clashes between Houthi rebels and forces loyal to ousted President Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi. The most intense violence is in the southern city of Aden, with more than 140 people reportedly killed in a 24-hour period. The United Nations says hundreds have been killed and more than 100,000 have been displaced since Saudi Arabia launched a military campaign two weeks ago. The Saudi regime has asked Pakistan to provide soldiers, heightening the possibility of a ground invasion. The International Committee of the Red Cross has warned of a dire humanitarian situation and demanded access to besieged areas. We are joined by the journalist Safa Al Ahmad, whose latest documentary, “The Fight for Yemen,” premieres tonight on Frontline on PBS stations nationwide. She was granted extremely rare reporting access to the Houthis as they advanced in Yemen.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AARON MATÉ: We begin in Yemen where intense fighting to Houthi rebels and forces loyal to ousted President Abd Rabbuh Manṣūr Hādī continues to rage. The U.N. says hundreds of been killed and more than 100,000 displaced. Since Saudi Arabia launched military campaign two weeks ago. Speaking today in Geneva, U.N. officials said nearly at least 74 children have died since the Saudi strikes began.
CHRISTIAN LINDMEIR: Estimations from six April, as of yesterday are, 540 people have been killed and some 1700 wounded by the violence in Yemen since 19 March. Seventy-four children are known to have been known to be killed and 44 children maimed so far since the fighting began on 26 March. But we say we are aware these are conservative figures, and we believe that the total number of children killed is much higher.
AMY GOODMAN: The Red Cross has warned of a dire humanitarian situation and demanded access to the the sieged areas. The most intense violence is in the southern city of Aden with more than 140 people reportedly killed in a 24-hour period. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, has asked Pakistan to provide soldiers heightening the possibility of a ground invasion. For more, we’re joined by journalist Safa Al Ahmad. Her latest documentary, “The Fight for Yemen,” premiers tonight on Frontline on PBS stations across the United States. In the film, Safa was granted extremely rare access to the Houthis as they advanced in Yemen. Welcome to Democracy Now! , Safa Al Ahmad. Can you talk about the fight for Yemen and this access you had, who the Houthis are, how you followed them in Yemen?
SAFA AL AHMAD (Female): I have been very curious about the Houthis for years now, especially — I’ve been going to Yemen for a few years and I’ve always wanted to get that access to the Houthis. So finally, when I heard last September that they surrounded the capital Sanaa, I thought that things would escalate if they actually took over the city. They’re very interesting because they are a very young group. And they keep morphing their understanding of who they are and what they want as they progress. And so it’s very hard to pin it down to one thing. But if I must describe the Houthis in one line, it would be the revivalist Zaydis with strong anti-imperialist agenda. And so they have these really big words to describe who they are and what they want, but in reality, they want control in Yemen, and this is what they’ve done. They didn’t have enough by just controlling Sanaa, but they’ve come across most of North Yemen and reached they’ve reached Aden.
AARON MATÉ: And Safa, the conventional line that we hear is that they receive heavy backing from Iran. What’s your assessment of that?
SAFA AL AHMAD: I think that’s vastly overblown. There is very little good journalism that has been done to prove the extent of the relationship between the Houthis in Iran. I don’t doubt that there is a relationship between the Houthis and Iran, but how extensive is that? For people to blatantly call them Iranian-backed Shia militia, I think that is very, very problematic. The Houthis have local agenda; they have local grievances, and local power. The rise of the Houthis themselves had nothing to do with the Iranians. Whether they — I think there is a relationship with the Iranians and the Houthis at the moment, but not to the extent that the world claims there is for Iran. Saudi Arabia has deeper connections with Yemen. They have a large border with Yemen, and the Saudis have funded — sent money directly and arms to different groups inside Yemen. So I would argue between the two, Saudi Arabia has the much bigger influence and the upper hand in Yemen.
AMY GOODMAN: And talk about the role right now Saudi Arabia, what exactly is happening in Yemen on the ground, the conditions of people there? In a moment, we’re going to be speaking with an arms control expert who will talk about the Obama administration pouring more money into making more weapon sales than any administration since World War II. The largest recipient of those — of that military aid and weaponry is, of course, to Saudi Arabia.
SAFA AL AHMAD: Yes, I mean, record-breaking number of contracts, I think, have been sold to the Saudis in the past few years. I don’t know who they’re using them against. Yemen is a very — Yemen is the poorest Arab country. And so to have this huge alliance against Yemen for allegedly trying to break the back of the Houthis, I think it belies it, because now that the Houthis have come to Aden, which is what the airstrikes were allegedly trying to stop from happening. So the Houthis have large alliances on the ground. They didn’t — they’re not an occupying power coming from nowhere. They have been working on spreading that alliance throughout the areas that they controlled. And so the Saudi war on Yemen — Saudi-led airstrikes on Yemen — will have very limited impact on the power of the Houthis on the ground, unless there are ground troops. And even then, what is the solution? I don’t know what’s the endgame with this. I mean, the Saudis claim that it is to bring back the legitimate President Abdel Rabbo Mansour Hadi back to Yemen. But I think for a lot of Yemenis, he has lost his credibility. He has lost his legitimacy. He’s called for a war on his own people. And now he’s sitting at Riyadh. I think for a lot of people, that’s extremely problematic. The humanitarian crisis is astounding to begin with, even before this, and now with the whole air and sea embargo on Yemen, there is very little fuel, there is a food shortages. It is frightening what is happening now in Yemen and heartbreaking. The numbers that the U.N. is saying are most likely much lower than what is actually on the ground.
AARON MATÉ: Safa, so what do you see as the solution? Because some would say that the Houthis are also allied with a former president who also has lost credibility, Saleh. So what is the answer here?
SAFA AL AHMAD: Yeah, Ali Saleh, yeah. I mean, a lot of people blame Ali Saleh for all of this. He’s the one who has waged six wars against the Houthis because of his fear of their advancement. And now they’re allied together. But in the ned, I think the problem is you can’t just look at what is happening now as in today or this week in Yemen.
AMY GOODMAN: Safa, before your film tonight that will be airing around the United States, “The Fight for Yemen,” you made the film “Saudi Secret Uprising” in Saudi Arabia. Can you briefly tell us about that and how it illuminates the Saudi regime?
SAFA AL AHMAD: I mean, I have been following the protests that have been happening in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia for a while and I finally got commissioned by the BBC to do a documentary about it. And so this is unprecedented, historic event in Saudi Arabia where there are protests consistently for over three years now. And nobody has been covering it and nobody has been talking about it, although, it’s happening within the context of all the other revolutions that were happening in the Arab world. Of course, it was in a revolution, it was an uprising and protest. Yet it goes into the whole idea of the stereotypical image of Saudi Arabia. Nobody wants to talk about the issues that are domestically happening inside the country. The protests started with, with — like a lot of the others, for example, in Libya, for freeing prisoners, political prisoners. And Instead of freeing the political prisoners, the government had increased its own detentions of the people who went out in the streets to protest. And so the escalation of demands from the protesters kept getting higher as the government continued to oppress the protests. And we can put it within the context of what is happening in the whole Middle East where the people are trying to renegotiate their relationship with their governments, and unfortunately, in the Arab world, most of them are dictatorships and they do not tolerate another voice. And then they treat them with violence. And then they are surprised with the protesters turn violent as well. And so it’s — they have created the enemy they need. They don’t want peaceful protests. They don’t want civil society. They don’t want a peaceful form of reform in the country. They just want to continue the status quo.
AARON MATÉ: And Safa —
SAFA AL AHMAD: And that goes back to Yemen as well.
AARON MATÉ: And Safa, in terms of that status quo, how decisive is the U.S., in your view?
SAFA AL AHMAD: How decisive? What do you mean?
AARON MATÉ: How decisive is the role of the U.S. in supporting these autocratic regimes you described? How critical is that to maintaining their power and their repression?
SAFA AL AHMAD: I mean, there are two things. There is an internal issue, where the people themselves have decided, like with Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, that there’s no longer any possibility for this rule to continue, then that will happen despite American intervention.
And think, like the news in the past couple of weeks about Sweden stopping selling weapons to Saudi Arabia because of a woman’s rights. I’m like, come on, did you just know, did you just find out that that woman didn’t have rights, that people don’t have human rights in Saudi Arabia, that they are in an oppressive regime? So I think this quite opportunistic as well in that perspective. We need to have more complex, more in-depth stories and coverage of countries like Saudi Arabia, because they play a huge role in the region. So continuing to talk about it in this really simplistic way is really detrimental to be understanding of what is actually happening on the ground.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally Safa Al Ahmad, as you cover the Houthi in Yemen, how did they respond to you as a Saudi journalist and filmmaker?
SAFA AL AHMAD: It took a lot of talking. It helped because I knew a lot of those people from before they came into power. So I have been coming to Yemen for years, and they knew me. They knew that I’ve tried to go Sadaa several times. And so I didn’t have a sudden interest in what was going on now. But even then, they were very worried about media to begin with. And it took a lot of talking, a lot of convincing. Every step of the way I needed to talk more and try to get more access. It was never at some point, like I never had carte blanche access to them. It never worked out that way. They are very, very secretive about their decision-making process, the filming of people who are involved as members. So it was a constant negotiation. I was never just given access just like that. That’s why it took so long to get that access that I did in the end.
AMY GOODMAN: Safa Al Ahmad, I want to thank you for being with us, Saudi journalist and filmmaker. Her latest document, “The Fight for Yemen” premieres tonight on Frontline on PBS around the United States. Safa just won a 2015 Freedom of Expression Award from the Index on Censorship for her film, “Saudi’s Secret Uprising.” This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we look at the weapon sales of the Obama administration, and then “Cowspiracy”. What does consumption of meat have to do with the drought in California? Stay with us!
Are Obama’s Record Arms Sales to
Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt and Iraq
Fueling Unrest in Middle East?
As Saudi Arabia continues U.S.-backed strikes in Yemen and Washington lifts its freeze on military to aid to Egypt, new figures show President Obama has overseen a major increase in weapons sales since taking office. The majority of weapons exports under Obama have gone to the Middle East and Persian Gulf. Saudi Arabia tops the list at $46 billion in new agreements. We are joined by William Hartung, who says that even after adjusting for inflation, “the volume of major deals concluded by the Obama administration in its first five years exceeds the amount approved by the Bush administration in its full eight years in office by nearly $30 billion. That also means that the Obama administration has approved more arms sales than any U.S. administration since World War II.” Hartung is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, and author of “Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex“.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AARON MATÉ: We turn now to the major increase in U.S. arms exports under President Obama. As Saudi Arabia continues U.S.-backed strikes in Yemen and Washington lifts its freeze on military aid to Egypt, new figures show the majority of U.S. weapons exports under Obama have gone to the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. Saudi Arabia tops the list at $46 billion in new agreements. William Hartung writes that even after adjusting for inflation, “the volume of major deals concluded by the Obama administration in its first five years exceeds the amount approved by the Bush administration in its full eight years in office by nearly $30 billion.” That also means the Obama administration has approved more arms sales than any other U.S. administration since World War II.
AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about these figures, we’re joined now by Bill Hartung, Director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy. His latest book is, “Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex.” He recently wrote an article headlined, “The Obama Arms Bazaar: Record Sales, Troubling Results.” Welcome back to Democracy Now! , Bill. Talk about the numbers. Talk about the weapons. Where are they going?
WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well, I was astonished in researching the article that Obama had sold his much. I mean, I knew there were record deals with the Saudis, but to outsell the eight years of Bush, to sell more than any president since World War II, was surprising even to me who follow these things quite closely. The majority, 60 percent, have gone to the Persian Gulf and Middle East and within that, the Saudis have been the largest recipient of things like U.S. fighter planes, Apache attack helicopters, bombs, guns, almost an entire arsenal they’ve purchased in just the last few years.
AARON MATÉ: What do you think the Iran nuclear deal, if anything, portends for U.S. sales to the Middle East? President Obama’s about to call a meeting at Camp David with the leaders of all the Gulf nations. Do you see them exploiting that to call for increased U.S. military purchases from the U.S.?
WILLIAM HARTUNG: Unfortunately, yes. You would think a reduction of tensions should reduce the arms sales, but the Saudis have been screaming about the deal, saying you’re letting Iran off the hook — which is not the case. Therefore, you have to bulk up our armaments, which is kind of insane given the amounts that have already gone there.
AMY GOODMAN*: So how does the Obama administration spending on military weapons – and is it the Obama administration spending money on military weapons – or just allowing the weapons to be sold to these countries? And how does it compare to the two terms of the George W. Bush administration?
WILLIAM HARTUNG: Primarily, these are sales because the Saudis and others in the Gulf can afford them, the exceptions being aid to Egypt and Israel, which are the biggest recipients of U.S. military aid. Under Bush, they sold about $30 billion less than the $169 billion of the first five years of Obama. So already in five years, he’s outsold what Bush did in eight years.
Tabacco: To be fair, we must make allowances for Increasing Costs of Armaments since 2008 – War Profiteers always INSIST on that (No Hometown Discounts here!) However, Obama has still outdone Bush in these MALFEASANCES!
AMY GOODMAN: And what does this mean for war in the world?
WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well, I think we’re seeing the results now. As mentioned in the prior segment, Saudi Arabia is using U.S. weapons to bomb Yemen, civilians have been killed, Egypt is not exactly a democratic regime, as we know. Now they’ve opened sales against them. They’ve supported dictators for many years, prior to Obama, which helped in one hand spark the Arab Spring, but also has armed the counterattacks by places like Egypt and the Saudis going into crush democracy movement and Bahrain as well as the government there. So it has been force — a negative force for many years. But I think it is spinning out of control now.
AARON MATÉ: And your piece also points out that it is not just U.S. arms going to regimes. When countries go haywire and into chaos like in Yemen, Iraq, and Syria, U.S. weapons in up in the hands of militants.
WILLIAM HARTUNG: Exactly! We don’t know the full numbers but in Iraq, the security forces abandoned large amounts of the weaponry to Isis. U.S. armed rebels in Syria armed by the CIA, went over to join Isis. There’s $500 million missing of weapons in Yemen. Some think it’s gone to the Houthis some think it’s gone to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Of course there’s arms on both sides because the government and the forces have split in this war. So it’s quite possible every side of that war in Yemen may have some level of U.S. weaponry. So it’s really gone haywire. It’s sort of what I call the boomerang effect, when U.S. arms end up in the hands of U.S. adversaries.
AMY GOODMAN: I’d like to ask about a recent exchange between Deutsche Bank analyst Myles Walton and Lockheed Martin Chief Executive Marillyn Hewson during an earnings call in January. Financial industry analysts use earnings calls as an opportunity to ask publicly traded corporations like Lockheed about issues that might harm profitability. Hewson said that Lockheed was hoping to increase sales and that both the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region were “growth markets.”
MARILLYN HEWSON: Even if there may be some kind of deal that is done with Iran, there is volatility all around the region and each one of these countries believes they’ve got to protect their citizens and the things we can bring to them help in that regard. So similarly, that is the Middle East. I know that us what you asked about, but you can take that same argument to the Asia-Pacific region, which is another growth area for us. A lot of volatility, a lot of instability a lot of that are happening both with North Korea as well as some of the tensions between China and Japan. So in both of those regions, which are growth areas for us, we expect that there is going to continue to be opportunities for us to bring our capabilities to them.
AMY GOODMAN: During the call, Lockheed CEO Marillyn Hewson, who you were just listening to, also noted that 20 percent of Lockheed’s sales in 2014 were international, that is, to non-American customers. She added, “Lockheed has set a goal to get to 25 percent over the next few years”. Can you talk about the significance of this, Bill Hartung?
WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well, there’s been a slight blip in Pentagon procurement. Still quite high, but the company’s need to grow constantly. And so they’re looking to up foreign sales to make up for any reductions at the Pentagon. As we heard in the clip, they’re looking to areas of conflict. And it’s not surprising, but I’m surprised that she said it so explicitly. She was asked about the Iran question, would that depress the market. She basically said, oh, there’s plenty of turbulence there, don’t worry about it, as there is in East Asia, these will be our growth markets. So she is more or less acknowledging they thrive on war and the threat of war, which is not surprising to a lot of people, but nonetheless, to say it like that, I think is a bit shocking. To just put it right out there.
AARON MATÉ: I want to ask you about drones. Earlier this year, the White House announced it will allow foreign allies to purchase U.S. made armed drones for the first time. Under a new policy American firms can sell their drones abroad, but will be subjected to a case-by-case review. Talk about this policy. Your were very critical of it.
WILLIAM HARTUNG: Yes! I mean, it’s got some rhetoric that makes sense. You can’t use these drones to repress your own population, for illegal surveillance, to attack you neighbors. But as we’ve seen in other cases, once they’re sold, very little control over how they are used. And given the regimes in the Persian Gulf, they’ve already sold unarmed predators, or about to, the UAE, so it’s quite possible we’ll see in the context of the war in Yemen, perhaps armed drones sold to these countries. And it’s fine to say we’re going to control their use, but the record in Iraq and Yemen and elsewhere makes that quite dubious.
AMY GOODMAN: As we see the Obama administration’s dramatic acceleration of U.S. weapons sales abroad, can you talk about the U.S. requirements on the licensing of weapons and weapons-related exports?
WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well, the industry has wanted relaxation for years. The Obama administration finally delivered that. They took things from the State Department, which does a somewhat better job of vetting human rights and so forth, and took thousands of items and put them in the Commerce Department which historically has been involved in promoting arms sales, not vetting them. So it’s going to be easier for some countries to get arms without a license and those countries will become hubs of smuggling, no doubt. So it’s going to be counter to even the narrowest security interests of the United States, but it’s something industry has wanted for quite a while.
AARON MATÉ: On the positive side, the world’s first treaty regulating the arms trade took effect last year. The Arms Trade Treaty. The U.S. has signed it; the Senate hasn’t ratified it. But you write that that is still a positive thing.
WILLIAM HARTUNG: Yes, I think, compared to Bush, which was joined at the hip with the NRA and wouldn’t go near the Arms Trade Treaty, at least the U.S. administration signed it; although a somewhat weaker version that some of us would have liked. It commits them on paper not to sell to human rights abusers, not to let arms that may be involved in corruption. Obviously, that has been violated, in my opinion, in some of the current sales to the Middle East, but it’s a standard that they should be held to because they did sign that treaty.
AMY GOODMAN: So they sign the treaty and they accelerate weapons sales abroad. Would you say the — financing the weapons industry is actually a motivation for being involved in wars abroad?
WILLIAM HARTUNG: I think it’s one element. I think there is an ideological element; I think there’s an element of just U.S. global reach and global control. But, certainly, a reinforcing point is to sell arms and to help these companies. And it sometimes it is made quite explicit. When they sell to the Saudis, for example, the Pentagon points out it will create x number of jobs in the United States. So they’re not shy about talking about the jobs aspect.
AMY GOODMAN: So weapons industry does better under the Democrats than the Republicans?
WILLIAM HARTUNG: I would say, at the moment, they’re doing better on the arms sales front. Slightly —
AMY GOODMAN: And where do their contributions go?
WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well they tip usually depending whoever is in power. So they’re about two-thirds Republican in the Senate and the house, which is controlled by Republicans. They’re quite supportive of Obama. There’s such a flood of money from everywhere, sometimes it’s hard to follow one stream within that huge flow of money.
AMY GOODMAN: Well we want to thank you, Bill Hartung, for being with us. Final question, what are you recommending?
WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well I think the Obama administration should live up to its principles on the arms trade Treaty. I think Congress should take a closer look at some of these sales, speak out against them. I think civil society groups, which oppose this, should make their voices louder because in many cases, most Americans don’t even know this is happening.
AMY GOODMAN: Bill Hartung is Director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy. His latest book, “Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex.” We’ll link to his piece, “The Obama Arms Bazaar: Record Sales, Troubling Results.”. When we come back, we look at the drought in California. What does it have to do with animal agriculture? What does it have to do with eating meat? Stay with us!
Tabacco: You see, Americans, if the 6 o’clock (?)News(?) continues to
FOCUS ONLY ON WHAT ISLAMIC TERRORISTS ARE DOING TO US,
but completely disregards
WHAT WE DID TO PROVOKE MUSLIM TERRORISTS TO DO WHAT THEY DO,
then your View of Foreign Affairs is inevitably Skewed in a Pro-America/Anti-Muslim manner because our own Media only give us HALF OF THE NEWS – the HALF they want you to know!
What is worse is WE AMERICANS STARTED THE WHOLE DAMN THING!!!!!
So if you think Muslims are ALL BAD and Americans are ALL GOOD, you have ANOTHER THINK COMING!
Telling only the HALF OF THE TRUTH that BENEFITS YOU is tantamount to what?
Tabacco: I consider myself both a funnel and a filter. I funnel information, not readily available on the Mass Media, which is ignored and/or suppressed. I filter out the irrelevancies and trivialities to save both the time and effort of my Readers and bring consternation to the enemies of Truth & Fairness! When you read Tabacco, if you don’t learn something NEW, I’ve wasted your time.
Tabacco is not a blogger, who thinks; I am a Thinker, who blogs. Speaking Truth to Power!
In 1981′s ‘Body Heat’, Kathleen Turner said, “Knowledge is power”.
T.A.B.A.C.C.O. (Truth About Business And Congressional Crimes Organization) – Think Tank For Other 95% Of World: WTP = We The People